The autumn morning frost clung to the edge of the glacial till boulder, in the shadows of the highway. Nature and the nurtured, side by side in the old South Woods of the Adirondack mountain range, or what was once known as the edge of humanity. Beyond that point it was once often said frightfully, there were no more Sundays.
Known regionally as the “Sunday Rock,” the boulder lies astride State Highway 56 in the Town of Colton, New York, located in St. Lawrence County. It is a veritable stone’s throw from one of the original pre-historical Indian trails into the modern Adirondack Forest Preserve. The hunting grounds at the northern Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne would have been accessible from this general area.
Such is the symbolism for the fear of the unknown coming into play in this case of Sunday Rock. And who was conjuring it, at any given time.
It is not a far-flung idea to imagine the European settlers, having made it this far inland, tapping deeper and deeper into Indian trading networks. Like any invading army, the farther away from supply points creates a greater need to live upon the land, by those most forward troops. Their sense of capital gain was only tempered by the terrain features that reminded these scouts truly what Indian Country meant; something out of reach. Possibly it was a step too far for many.
In 1763, King George III of England issued the Royal Proclamation that no further colonial expansion beyond a series of interconnected western geographic points was to be undertaken. This act was taken out of caution for the response of the dominant Native populations living there who had already been encroached upon. It took place after the British victory in the French and Indian War. Sunday Rock got its name following this period and before the start of the Revolutionary War.
Upon travelers sighting the imposing 30-ton Sunday Rock, the sense of mortality was likely felt on both symbolic fronts of the natural monument.
For the Native populations that may have earlier enjoyed clear passage in what became this ad-hoc border region, the fear of the unknown went the other way. Death came sooner here. Seeking trade goods was beneficial but the supply trade brought its own sense of a foreign way of life.
Commercial advertising messages design today refers to a belief that modern civilization creates monsters in a world they no longer exist in. In this same way, the Sunday Rock became branded with fear.
The sense of foreboding that exists in the evergreen Upstate NY region during the winter months evokes other dangers. Snow falls from tall pine trees each day, like a steady messages from above, reminding those walking beneath that we are never truly by ourselves out here.
These are the lands of the legendary Haudenosaunee Stone Giants, whose existence were a reminder to earlier generations that creation acted unto itself. In this way, the unknown has always aided the living to understand that danger lurks in the dark.
More recent reports of unknown creatures sighted by reputable sources have been documented in the Whitehall, NY area. Still, the era spanning back to the pre-colonial period includes reports of the explorer Samuel de Champlain himself associating his namesake lake with something big and toothy.
All of this retrospection is merely an exercise of gravity. Darkness knocks us down a peg in general as a species, whether we live in the city or the country. At one time, during volcanic ash saturation of the Earth’s atmosphere, the sun did not really come up each day. Dawns early light seems mundane by today’s standards, but it was not always so.
A friend of mine who lives in the rural Colton area, Jason, tells me he that this is the area to get away from it all and get back to nature. “I see things out here that no one else does or could. Wildlife is right on my doorway. At night with a fire lit, the owls speak to me like the call of the wild never went away. The flames dance with the cold wind like a sail in the ocean. An amazing and spiritual place for sure, with a hint of the past sometimes brushing up against the present especially near the water, where we know people travelled,” he told me once. “The sunrises are always spectacular.”
The other implication of Sunday’s Rock is the implicit abandonment of religious atonement for what took place beyond the reach of the horse and wagon trail.
Akwesasne Bear Clan member Kanaretiio has often reminded me that when the wooden wagon wheels of the settler groups began to be mangled by the glacially distributed rocks everywhere in their path, an agreement was struck. Called the free passage agreement or understanding, it was not committed to wampum. What it meant though was that the settlers could use the wagon paths that were becoming more established and clear the rocks from the path, if they could manage the undertaking. The other part of the understanding was that the settlers had no rights to anything six inches below or six feet above the ground they were tilling to make their new lives easier. “How soon some forget,” states Kanaretiio.
Apart from the original glacier that deposited it, Sunday Rock has roamed within the hamlet of South Colton. Upon recorded maps, the rock sat square in the middle of the earliest roadway, causing the road to split to both the left and the right simultaneously. It surely was the first traffic circle seen in the North Country. Eventually, in 1925 the locals raised $260 and hired machinists to move the boulder. It was again moved to its current location in 1965 in what is expected to be the final placement of the since-declared state historical marker designation. A ceremony was held in 2011 to mark the occasion.
The enduring efforts of the local Swift-Taylor family led to the donation of the land and the development of park amenities including picnic grounds that the landmark resides on. The late Colton matriarch Sally Swift Thomas and her devoted son Rodney were stewards of this cause.
Much has changed in the area over the centuries. Maps, chain link surveys and Indian Titled properties beset the Upstate New York region, usurping the oral traditions of these Mohawk homelands called Kanienké, or The Land of the Flint. The tribal land claims of the area serve as a faint reminder that the limits of the known world once sat right here, underneath a big rock with a metal plaque, in the middle of a northern road. Some still hold fast to the belief however that it symbolizes the best days that have now gone past.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.